In first trial since November, jury finds Kentucky man not guilty on meth charges
Enrique Echevarria-Castro, 38, faced level 1 drug felonies punishable by eight to 32 years in prison
EAGLE — A Kentucky man facing up to several decades in prison for allegedly possessing and trafficking 5 pounds of methamphetamine through Colorado saw not guilty verdicts returned on those charges Friday, at the conclusion of Eagle County’s first jury trial in nearly three months.
Enrique Echevarria-Castro, 38, faced charges of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and possession with intent to sell or distribute, both level 1 drug felonies punishable by eight to 32 years in prison.
He also faced a felony charge of violating bond conditions for not showing up to his three-day trial in Eagle County in May 2019, and a misdemeanor charge of false reporting for giving a false name to law enforcement.
The jury trial held before Eagle County District Court Judge Paul R. Dunkelman started Monday with jury selection and continued through Friday. It was the first jury trial since mid-November, when jury trials were put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jurors returned their verdicts after about two hours of deliberation Friday afternoon, finding Echevarria-Castro not guilty on the two methamphetamine charges, yet guilty of the bond violation and false reporting charges.
Sentencing is set for March 21, with Echevarria-Castro facing up to six months in jail for the false reporting conviction and up to 18 months for the bond violation. He has already spent about one year in custody, according to courtroom discussions.
Echevarria-Castro was one of three men in a car that sheriff’s deputies saw parked in a turn lane in Edwards around 1 a.m. on Sept. 29, 2018. Deputies stopped to assist, and the driver, Jorge Alcolea-Argote, 35, told them he was looking for the Edwards rest area.
Alcolea-Argote handed deputies an expired insurance card and a Florida vehicle registration that did not match the Kentucky plates on the car, and was found to not have a valid driver’s license. The three men told deputies they were friends driving back to Kentucky from Utah, where they had picked up Echevarria-Castro, though none of the men could say what city in Utah they were traveling from, and deputies ultimately searched the car with permission from Alcolea-Argote and Echevarria-Castro, according to a police affidavit.
On the floor in the back of the car, near where Echevarria-Castro was sitting alone, deputies found a backpack containing five packages totaling nearly 5 pounds of methamphetamine. All three men denied owning or knowing who the backpack belonged to.
Alcolea-Argote, arrested that night along with Echevarria-Castro, later pleaded guilty to two drug felonies and was sentenced to four years in prison in the case. The front seat passenger in the car, identified as Michel Olivera-Fernandez, was released the night of the stop and given a ride to the bus station in Vail, though testimony at trial also touched on how a debit card in his name was later found to be linked to a stolen credit card, accessing the funds of that stolen card rather than the debit card.
Defense attorney John Scott argued prosecutors presented no evidence linking the methamphetamine to Echevarria-Castro, and that he was simply receiving a ride back to Kentucky from two people he did not know. That ride was arranged by Echevarria-Castro’s wife through a social media site for Cubans in Kentucky and Echevarria-Castro did not know — and had no way of knowing — there were any drugs in the car, Scott argued.
Scott and Echevarria-Castro also argued he had missed his earlier trial in Eagle County because he was in Arizona looking for his mentally ill father who had gone missing, and that he had provided a false name to police the night of the stop because he was concerned about going to jail for unpaid child support.
Prosecutors described Echevarria-Castro, who took the stand at trial, with his testimony in Spanish translated, as a man with two identities, one portraying himself as a concerned son, husband and father, but the other a drug dealer and conspirator trying to move a large amount of methamphetamine across the country.
“He almost got away with it, and might have gotten away had they not missed the rest stop in Edwards, Colorado … They were parked on an active roadway, that’s what caused the motorist assist. This mistake, seemingly simple, set in motion a chain of events that bring the defendant here today,” Deputy District Attorney Amy Padden told the jury in closing arguments. “This is the defendant’s last chance to get away with it … We ask you to return a verdict of guilty on all four counts. Don’t let him get away with it.“
Jurors apparently were not convinced there was sufficient evidence linking Echevarria-Castro to the drugs found in the car.
Yet according to prosecutors, Echevarria-Castro is also facing methamphetamine trafficking charges in Louisville, Kentucky after he was indicted there last year by a grand jury.
U.S. Postal Service inspectors and Kentucky State Police allegedly intercepted a package shipped from Arizona containing 1 pound of methamphetamine. Law enforcement officers delivered the package to another man, the person it was sent to, but then watched that man hand it to Echevarria-Castro and later found the package in Echevarria-Castro’s room in the house, according to an affidavit.
Prosecutors tried to get evidence from the pending Kentucky case admitted into this week’s Eagle County trial, but that request was denied last October by Judge Jonathan Shamis, who was filling in for Judge Dunkelman while Judge Dunkelman was overseeing the Leigha Ackerson murder trial.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at email@example.com.